Lassus/Palestrina

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COMPOSERS: Lassus/Palestrina
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Hodie Christus natus est (Mass & motet); Stabat mater; Missa Bell’ Amfitrit’ altera
PERFORMER: Schola Cantorum of Oxford/Jeremy Summerly
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550836 DDD
The Hyperion disc is arranged with the movements of Lassus’s Missa Bell’ Amfitrit’ altera taking their proper place within the drama of a festal service in early 17th-century Bavaria. The Mass is framed by two monumental Hassler motets for three choirs, with a totally enveloping stereo opulence. Cornetts, sackbutts and organs interject lively canzonas, and keyboard toccatas by Hassler and his contemporary, Christian Erbach.

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The instrumental richness is reflected in Westminster Cathedral Choir’s bright, continental sound and resonant tuning. Words are crystal clear, although doubled by the wind in imaginatively varied colours – the eight-part Lassus Sanctus is all the grander for the addition of cornetts and sackbutts. The Benedictus, contrastingly transparent in four parts, has discreet accompaniment on the chamber organ.

The recording quality is crisp and clear, warmed by the ambient resonance of Westminster Cathedral which remains audible throughout, linking the tracks of this wonderfully animated disc.

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Schola Cantorum of Oxford could hardly be more different. They too are hard to fault technically in the same Lassus Mass and music by Palestrina. Sung a tone higher, unaccompanied, more polished and slower, this is a respectful concert performance, distanced from the liturgical drama. Yet there are moments of surpassing beauty, notably in the contemplative tone picture of Palestrina’s Stabat mater. George Pratt